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Questions to Ask When Touring a Storage Space

Whether you own an expanding business that needs more space to store equipment and inventory, or you simply need to declutter your living room in preparation for a move, chances are good that you're in the market for self storage space.

Of course, finding an appropriate storage facility isn't always a walk in the park. After all, there are over 49,000 storage facilities that operate in the United States as of 2012, and over 1,000 in Arizona alone. With so many choices, it pays to weigh your options carefully and ask smart, focused questions as you tour each of the facilities you're considering.

What Can't be Stored in a Typical Unit?

Let's cover this issue right up front. Storage units can be used to stash just about anything that's not volatile, hazardous, or illegal. Items that can't be stored in a typical self-storage unit include hazardous chemicals, explosives, unsealed organic materials and living animals. In other words, you can't store things that you wouldn't feel comfortable putting in your own garage.

What Kind of Security Protocols Does the Facility Use?

It's important to select a storage facility that takes security seriously. Whether you're storing textbooks that you won't need this semester, business inventory or household items, you'll feel more comfortable with an operation that has security in place and also respects your privacy. The best self-storage facilities maintain "perimeter" security systems to deter entrance by non-clients, and many also have video surveillance.

You will be asked to provide your own lock to the storage unit - that way you have full control over who has the key. When selecting a lock, spend the extra couple of dollars for a high quality disc lock; in other words, don't skimp on the device protecting your belongings.

Well-run storage facilities also respect the law as well as your right to privacy. The rental agreement is a contract between you and the storage facility only and does not extend to family members or other individuals unless you give them express permission. Many times that permission will be written into the rental agreement as "additional allowed access" or some other terminology.

Summer Is No Joke! Is the Facility Climate Controlled?

According to the Library of Congress (LOC), sensitive paper items such as newspapers and legal documents can degrade quickly when exposed to heat, light and excessive humidity. Jewelry, metal, and even "durable" items like power tools and vehicles can degrade under duress. In fact, the LOC specifically advises folks who worry about preserving valuable goods to "store [these items] in a cool, dry location, such as a closet or air-conditioned room."

While humidity isn't typically a problem in the Valley of the Sun, heat and light obviously pose a significant threat here. Because many older self-storage facilities don't offer climate-controlled units, it's important to confirm that your storage operator does make some provision for the heat of summer. If you're storing anything that's valuable or sensitive to environmental changes, you'll want to put that item in a facility that has temperature and/or humidity control.

Does the Facility Offer Truck Rentals?

Depending on your circumstances, you may or may not have the time or inclination to rent a moving truck or trailer on your own. Fortunately, a growing number of storage operators are adding truck rentals to the long list of services that their facilities provide. Kathy Music, owner of a local storage facility in East Texas, sums up her decision to start offering truck rentals with these wise words: "I wanted to earn extra income and increase business traffic."

Ms. Music has a point. If you're like most folks, you'll appreciate the convenience of on-site truck rentals. Before you sign for a unit, be sure to plan ahead and determine whether you'll need to cart large loads to and from the space in the future. If you will, you'll want to rent from a facility that offers truck rentals.

What Types of Spaces Does the Facility Offer?

Storage units generally start at 5x5 feet and increase in size from there. Most students and families gravitate to units sized anywhere from 5x10 feet to 10x20 feet depending on their needs. For example, a two bedroom apartment with a couple of appliances will likely fit into a 10x15 space. On the other hand, a 3-4 bedroom house may require a 10x30 foot unit. Likewise, if you have a boat or truck, it'll occupy most of a 10x25foot unit and leave little extra space for additional items.

That's why you'll need to make sure that your facility offers a wide variety of unit sizes. You may opt to store some items in a traditional storage unit and others in a smaller, climate controlled space. If you'll be visiting your space often and need access to inventory, you will want a larger space in order to leave aisles for easy access. Before you sign up with a storage operator, be sure to ask about the availability of different sizes and types of space.

What About Vehicle Storage?

Whether you need someplace to park your landscaping business's pickup trucks during the slow season or your family's RV, you might have use for a storage facility that offers either outdoor parking or garage-sized drive-in units. Many storage facilities in densely-populated urban areas simply don't have space for this sort of amenity. While Arizona's ample breathing room ensures that drive-in units are fairly common here, you'll want a facility that's willing to accommodate short-term and long-term parking for trucks, trailers, RVs and boats. You'll also want to be sure that you can get your vehicle in and out on demand. After all, you never know when you'll need that extra ride.

Storage Insurance

Whatever you do, you will want insurance on your items in storage - if it's worth storing, it's worth insuring. Now if you carry a homeowners' policy, don't automatically assume it will cover the contents of a storage unit. You should check with directly with your agent and verify the coverage amount and deductible. If it turns out you aren't covered, most facilities offer storage insurance through a third party provider. This is a convenient option for you to protect against the unexpected because you can pay the monthly premium along with your monthly storage rental payment. In some cases, the insurance provider may even waive the deductible if you purchase a high quality disc-lock for your storage unit.